Archive for the ‘Ancestral health’ Category

Behavioral psychology blogger Gregory Ciotti explains the concept of supernormal stimulus … and why it suggests your brain just wasn’t built for junk food, porn, or the Internet. In a nutshell, the idea is that things like junk food or porn provide not-found-in-nature stimuli that our lizard brains find hard to resist.

Ciotti doesn’t say that the solution to this is to go all Luddite (or Grok). Instead, he suggests avoiding habituation:

The real enemy here is complacency—you needn’t feel guilty engaging with supernormal stimuli, but you should feel guilty if you allow yourself to become a victim of your habits, instead of the person in the driver’s seat.

Or as Stuart McMillen’s amazing comic concludes:

Only those who can see the supernormal can learn to silence the reptile.

A bit like “all things in moderation” but with a twist?

HT Julianne Taylor.

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Image from PaleoShoppe.com website mockup

Paleo is a diet/lifestyle that is based on how our Paleolithic ancestors ate. For some folks, this means a diet based on what we evolved to eat, foods that were consumed by our ancestors before the dawn of agriculture. You’d probably be forgiven for concluding that paleo was a whole foods diet.

But for many folks, “stone age eating for modern times” is mostly about excluding grains, legumes, and dairy. For them, processed foods like almond flour and coconut oil, or convenience foods with egg white and hemp protein powder, are fine.


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Quote of the day

Exuberant Animal’s Frank Forencich on health and fitness hyperbole:

Most of the time, we can safely dismiss these claims as over-blown rhetoric, the familiar chest-thumping of primates looking to one-up the rest of the tribe or attract a better mate. Alternately, we might conclude that these hyperbolic boasts are merely practical strategies for survival in an increasingly crowded and over-heated marketplace; bigger claims attract greater attention and in turn, bigger sales.

But these exaggerated health and fitness claims are not neutral, nor are they harmless. In fact, they are outright violations of the very nature of health. Even worse, they send a dangerous message to people who desperately need a sense of balance and proportion in their lives. In short, health and fitness hyperbole is not healthy.

Forencich talks at length about the inverse U or Goldilocks effect: a little isn’t enough, but a lot is too much. Even for so-called “safe” things like water.

It’s a great read, especially if you’re feeling at all guilty about how much you’re doing … or not doing.

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Paging Alanis Morissette

Isn’t it ironic?

The Paleo Diet™ Bar is a superior nutrition bar that is gluten, soy, dairy and preservative free. …


Organic Dates, Organic Almonds, Organic Egg White Protein Powder, Organic Raisins, Organic Sunflower Seeds, Organic Sesame Seeds, Organic Hemp Protein Powder, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Vanilla Extract, Organic Cinnamon, Sea Salt, Non-GMO.

Grok was just chowing down on protein powders, wasn’t he?

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Anthropology doctoral candidate Hillary Huber thinks Paleo-TM folks give legumes a bad rap, arguing that:

  • Paleo researchers tend to lump legumes with grains but only cite sources that discuss grains.
  • Concerns about anti-nutrients come from old sources; in addition, cooking tends to reduce these problems.
  • Some anti-nutrients, like phytic acid, actually have some benefits.
  • Legumes have some health-promoting properties as long as they aren’t eaten raw.

She summarizes:

My point is merely that the exclusion of legumes from the Paleo Diet, or any diet for that matter, is probably ill-conceived. I like to imagine that this negativity toward legumes is intimately tied
to human dislike of flatulence. Why else exclude a food group that is so nutritionally rich, has a deep history of being eaten by hominins and other primates, is one of the most concentrated sources of fiber available to humans, is inexpensive and widely available, and is so very delicious?

Good question! Actually, in his AHS12 presentation, Mat Lalonde pointed out that typical paleo foods are likely higher in nutrient density. However, as this review of his talk shows, legumes score fairly high when nutrient density is compared to calories.

My takeaway? Eat your organ meats regularly and enjoy your hummus or dal ;).

HT Melissa McEwen.

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Quote of the day

Endurance sports and nutrition writer Matt Fitzgerald has a book coming out this spring titled Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of US. The premise? Restrictive diets are not really all about better health:

Since as far back as the Kosher dietary laws of the ancient Hebrews and even before, human beings have formed group identities and derived a sense of moral superiority from eating by strict rules. This instinct has become so deeply ingrained in human nature that infants as young as three months old express a dislike for those who seem not to share their food preferences. The modern obsession with identifying (and identifying with) the “healthiest” diet is merely a new twist on the same old phenomenon. People who become convinced that a certain way of eating is best for everyone believe they are making a rational choice in pursuit of improved health, whereas they are primarily making an emotional and moralistic choice to join a special group that makes them feel good about themselves.

Nathan Riley does a much longer riff on this deep-seated need to belong in In Defense of Your Crossfit “Cult” over at Sweat and Butter.

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Chris Kresser has a great post today for folks concerned about David Perlmutter’s new book Grain Brain, and its assertion that we should eat a ketogenic (i.e., very low carb) diet to avoid Alzheimers and other neurological diseases.

In Do Carbs Kill Your Brain? Chris suggests that Perlmutter’s is an “unnecessarily restrictive and unhelpful” approach:

It’s important to realize that just because a low-carb diet can help treat neurological disorders, doesn’t mean the carbs caused the disorder in the first place. While I don’t argue with the idea that refined and processed carbs like flour and sugar contribute to modern disease, there’s no evidence to suggest that unrefined, whole-food carbohydrates do.

Chris points out three “compelling reasons” that unrefined carbs aren’t the problem:

  1. We evolved eating whole-food carbohydrates.
  2. There are many traditional cultures with high carb intake and low or nonexistent rates of neurological disease.
  3. Modern research does not support the notion that ‘safe’ carbs are harmful.

Like Chris, I think people should follow an approach that works for them. If that means ketogenic, great. But I suspect many would likely find that cutting out refined and processed carbs first might be just as beneficial and a whole lot more flexible than going very low carb.

Please go check out the full post for more.

Photo credit: SteffanyF

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Quote of the day

Rick Hanson, author of the recently published Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, spoke Wednesday to The Atlantic about why our evolutionary wiring can make it harder to ‘build’ happiness:

There was a lot about [hunter-gatherer life] that was very hard: there was no pain control, there was no refrigeration, there was no rule of law. Childbirth was a dangerous experience for many people. There’s a lot about modernity that’s good for the Stone Age brain. We do have the ability in the developed world—far from perfect, of course—to control pain. We have modern medicine, sanitation, flushed toilets and so forth and, in many places, the rule of law. …

… And yet on the other hand, many people today would report that they have a fundamental sense of feeling stressed and pressured and disconnected from other people, longing for closeness that they don’t have, frustrated, driven, etc. Why is that? I think one reason is that we’re simply wasting the positive experiences that we’re having, in part due to modernity, because we’re not taking into account that design bug in the Stone Age brain that it doesn’t learn very well.

This “design bug” is also our wired tendency to focus on the negative (got to be wary of tigers). Hanson’s solution? Making sure core needs — safety, satisfaction, and connection — are met and repeatedly internalizing these, taking “the extra 10, 20, 30 seconds to enable everyday [positive] experiences to convert to neural structure.”

You can read excerpts of the book on Hanson’s site.

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In Beyond the Paleolithic prescription: incorporating diversity and flexibility in the study of human diet evolution (free full text), anthropology researchers Bethany Turner and Amanda Thompson take an interesting and expanded look at what they see as the limitations in much of the current discussions of the so-called paleo diet.

One section I particularly liked was their “Rethinking the human sweet tooth” in the potential nutritional interventions section:

The assumption that humans evolved an affinity for sweet and fatty tastes that is highly adaptive but mismatched to modern contexts might reasonably lead one to conclude that unchecked consumption of sugary and high-fat foods is something of an inevitability. A wider perspective, however, focuses on the mechanisms of an affinity for sweet and fatty tastes rather than ending the explanation with a discordant adaptation. Humans learn to like sugar along with a host of other flavors in utero; moreover, sugars are associated with the secretion of endogenous opiates that confer pleasurable sensations and activate reward pathways in the brain. Similarly, the consumption of fatty foods stimulates the production of endogenous cannabinoids that create comparable reward effects. In modern environments characterized by cheap, readily available sugary and fatty foods and psychosocial stress that is both uniquely human and differentially endured, an unchecked consumption of sugars and high-fat foods could more reasonably reflect socially learned and socially reinforced behaviors than an adaptation gone awry.

Intervention strategies based on this broader perspective would not assume that removal of sugars, other simple carbohydrates, and excessive saturated fats from the diet is necessary because they trigger a mismatch born of adaptation. Instead, interventions could focus on manipulating the intrauterine flavorscape or early-life diets to impart an affinity to a broader range of taste stimuli unrelated to sweet tastes. Plant-based spices and aromatics can play a significant role in forming positive associations with foods based on flavor and olfactory properties. Since these associations are unrelated to fat or caloric content, such spices and aromatics could therefore become useful tools in shaping children’s preferences for plant-rich diets. Importantly, interventions aimed at preventing metabolic diseases could also benefit from focusing as strongly on reducing sources of psychosocial stress as on controlling food intake.

It’s an academic read, but it’s largely a review of existing literature and well worth your time. Some people may think that paleo has jumped the shark, but I think there is a great future in understanding how evolution shapes our interaction with our current environment. I’m happy that researchers like Turner and Thompson are expanding the discussion.

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Have you seen this video — The Science of Happiness – An Experiment in Gratitude — from the creative agency Soul Pancake? If not, take a look:

The “science” behind the video is from positive psychology research (full text) done by Martin Seligman. Seligman et al gave participants “one week to write and then deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone who had been especially kind to them but had never been properly thanked” and found that this exercise “caused large positive changes for one month.” The Soul Pancake folks one-upped this by doing a similar exercise all at the same time and taping it for all to see.

Gratitude? Or connection?

I’m posting this because I think the Soul Pancake folks are missing out on the real story here. They noted themselves that the people who were unable to share their gratitude (e.g., those who chose someone who was deceased) did not see a big increase in happiness. They also noted that the people who were the least happy to begin with saw the greatest increase when they shared their gratitude.

In other words, it seems clear (to me anyways) that it wasn’t the gratitude: it was the connection.

To be fair, this wasn’t just any connection. The people weren’t sharing how their favorite sports team had done or what the weather was like. No, this was a really intimate, meaningful connection. The kind of connection that, for most of us, is fairly infrequent given the various competitors for our time and energy … not to mention how hard it is for us to to be intimate, period.

Anyways, an interesting video. And it looks like you can get an increase in happiness by occasionally doing a gratitude journal. But I think that Soul Pancake missed the key takeaway and that Daniel Gilbert (see last week) has it right re social relationships: “nature’s designed us to experience happiness when we’re connected to others.”

Even when that connection is forced upon us as part of a video shoot!

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